The Envelope

'Homeland's' about-face shows how twists can be a smart risk

With so many dramas to choose from now, Emmy slots can fade away when a show's plot goes off track

"Homeland" show runner Alex Gansa remembers looking over at Claire Danes while shooting the fourth episode of Season 3, the one containing the big reveal that then CIA chief Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) and embattled agent Carrie (Danes) had not, in fact, been at odds when he publicly blamed and shamed her for the Langley bombing but had been working together all along on a covert operation. In that moment, Gansa and Danes shared the same crazy grin, believing they were shooting a landmark episode in the celebrated series.

Critics and viewers didn't fully agree, calling "Homeland's" third season, on the whole, patience-trying. For the first time in its run, it wasn't Emmy-nominated for drama series.

Full Coverage: Emmys 2015

So, after that season ended with the death of Brody (Damian Lewis), removing, in the words of Times television critic Mary McNamara, "a problem that began as the show's most glorious aspect and soon became its millstone," Gansa and the writers took the opportunity to reinvent "Homeland," sending Carrie abroad to Afghanistan.

Judging from the reviews and the abatement of snark on the show's message boards, the reboot worked. The question now: Will the Television Academy embrace "Homeland" again?

In today's serialized landscape, some chapters are bound to be better than others. Like "Homeland," CBS' legal drama "The Good Wife" won drama series Emmy nominations for its first two seasons only to fall out of favor afterward. Last year, after a fifth season that generated a number of buzzy plotlines (Civil war in the office! Will? Nooooo!") and near-universal acclaim, many thought it might be nominated again. But it was passed over in favor of "Breaking Bad," "Downton Abbey," "Game of Thrones," "House of Cards," "Mad Men" and the first-year HBO series "True Detective."

"When you look at all the great shows on, it's an almost impossible decision," says Robert King, "Good Wife" creator and show runner with wife Michelle of the bevy of choices afforded to Emmy voters.

"You just never know," adds "Breaking Bad" creator Vince Gilligan, who has a new show, "Better Call Saul," trying to break into the drama series category this year. "When you're in the middle of these seasons, you're flying by the seat of your pants, hoping everything works out. When it does, that's the victory. Awards are the icing on the cake."

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To make what King called an "impossible decision" a little easier, the Television Academy expanded both the comedy and drama series categories from six nominations to seven earlier this year. Of course, with emerging platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime developing more series, it's debatable whether any kind of enlargement can keep up with the output.

"The increase in volume is so dramatic that expanding from six to seven isn't a stretch in the least," says Television Academy Chairman and Chief Executive Bruce Rosenblum.

The expansion might encourage voters to reward older favorites like "Homeland" for rebounding with strong seasons after losing Emmy approval. The TV academy's track record of doing that hasn't been strong in the past — "Friends" is the only show recently to swing back into favor.

But one more nomination slot might make a difference.

"That will either make me very happy if we get nominated or even more depressed if we don't," Gansa says.

Twitter: @GlennWhipp

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